LANDMARKS DESIGNATION REPORT
IN OnlC>\vdL), ARCHITECT/
600 North Wabash Avenue
Submitted to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, May 200 1
CITY OF CHICAGO
Richard M. Daley, Mayor
Department of Planning and Development
Alicia Mazur Berg, Commissioner
The Medinah Temple represents an architectural oasis on the southwest corner of Wabash Avenue and Ontario Street
Its lavish, sculptural masonry provides a marked contrast to surrounding concrete and glass highrises.
The ornately detailed entrance pavilion to the Medinah Temple includes arabesque ornament and Arabic script proclaiming:
"There is no God but Allah," which is a traditional inscription found on Islamic mosques.The title type (below photo) is taken
from the headline of a 1913 Architectural Record article.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks, whose nine members are appointed by the Mayor; was established in 1968.
The Commission is responsible for recommending to the City Council which individual buildings, sites, objects or districts
should be designated as Chicago Landmarks.
The Commission makes its recommendations to the City Council following a detailed designation process. It begins with a staff
report on the historical and architectural background and significance of the proposed landmark The next step is a vote by the
Landmarks Commission as to whether the proposed landmark is worthy of consideration. Not only does this preliminary vote
initiate the formal designation process, but it places the review of city permits for the property under the jurisdiction of the
Commission until the final landmark recommendation is acted on by the City Council.
Please note that this landmark designation report is subject to possible revision during the designation process. Only language
contained within the designation ordinance recommended to the City Council should be regarded as final.
600 North Wabash Avenue
Huehl & Schmid
In the new Medinah Temple, recently erected for the Masonic
order of the Mystic Shrine in Chicago, is found one of those rare
instances in which a building designed in a historical style remote
from our 20th century civilization and ideals seems logical and
in harmony with its surroundings.
— The Architectural Record, April 1913
The views of this architectural critic still seem appropriate —
more than 85 years later — as the four-story tall Medinah Temple
remains one of the most distinctive structures on the Near North
Side of Chicago, due to its exceptional craftsmanship, exotic design
details, and its history as one of the city's longtime cultural centers.
The building was constructed to house a 4,200-seat auditorium
for the Chicago chapter (the "Medinah Temple") of the national
Shrine fraternal organization. The building's unique appearance
marks it as an extremely rare example of the Islamic Revival,
a style of architecture that was popularized during the first decades
of the 20th century by the Shrine organization. It is considered one
of the nation's finest examples of an Islamic-style temple and it
was ranked as one of the top 200 buildings in the city by the
Chicago Historic Resources Survey.
The building's exterior provides a textbook of Islamic details,
from horseshoe and ogival arches to arabesque-style ornament.
Its exquisite brick-and-terra cotta work is a tribute to the Shrine
organization's origins as a 16th century British stonemasons guild.
As one critic noted in 1913: "No member of the Shrine, or layman
who knows something of the ideals of this order, would ever
mistake this building for other than what it is."
The Medinah Temple occupies
a half-square block in the River
North neighborhood, two blocks
west of the famed North Michigan
Avenue retail district.
This 1893 photograph of the leadership
of the Chicago chapter ("temple") of
the Shrine fraternal organization was
taken nearly 20 years before the
construction of the Medinah Temple
building. From its earliest years, the
Shrine chose Islamic-inspired clothing,
rituals, and building decorations for
the imagery of its organization.
The Origins of the Medinah Temple
The Medinah Temple was built to serve as the Chicago headquarters
of a popular national fraternal organization, the Ancient Arabic Order
of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (a.k.a. the Shriners). Founded in
New York City in 1872, the Shrine was one of several organizations
established in the late- 1 9th century that restricted its membership
to men already active in "Freemasonry," an ancient British stonemason's
guild that had evolved into a social club of gentlemen, merchants,
In order to become a Shriner, a member had to have achieved either
the status of a "Knight Templar" in the Masonic York Rite or the
"32nd degree" in the Masonic Scottish Rite. The Shrine was conceived
of as a secret society that would honor the underlying seriousness of
Freemasonry while incorporating rituals filled with levity and entertain-
ment. It was structured around local groups, known as "temples," which
were the regional equivalent of neighborhood Masonic lodges. A temple
was given the exclusive right to draw membership from the region
in which it was located, and only one Shrine temple was given a charter
in any given city.
The historic Islamic culture of the Middle East was chosen as
the source for the symbols, motifs, and identities that would be used
by the Shrine organization. The temples were given exotic-sounding
names from Islamic history or geography, such as Mecca (New York
City), Kismet (Brooklyn), Murat (Indianapolis), or Al Malaikah
(Los Angeles) . The board of officers of each temple was known as
the Divan and officers were given titles such as "potentate," "rabban,"
or "high chief and prophet."
•h**"* ti * *-7
WHEN EVERYBODY IS A SHRINEft.
Initiation and other rituals utilized exotic set decorations and Islamic-
inspired clothes, such as the well-known red fez. The buildings that
the local Shrine temples built to house their activities were referred
to as "mosques" and were designed using Islamic-inspired architectural
forms and details. This appropriation of Islamic imagery provided
a stage within which American middle- and upper-middle-class men
could escape ordinary work and family responsibilities and enter
an imaginary world of the "carefree" Middle Eastern oasis.
The Medinah Temple, as the Chicago Shrine organization was called,
was founded on June 6, 1883, and was the 14th Shrine temple in
the United States. It was named for the city of Madina al-Nabi, where
the prophet Muhammad fled in 622 A.D. and founded the first Islamic
state, before mounting his conquest of Arabia. (The official location
of the Medinah Temple within the Shrine organization is in the
"Desert of Illinois; Oasis of Chicago")
Left The rapid growth of the Shrine's
local membership prompted this
humorous 1 907 Chicago Daily News
cartoon of what life would be like
"When Everybody is a Shriner," ranging
from the Islamic clothing of policemen
and baseball players to the design
Above: Prior to the construction of
Medinah Temple, the Shrine occupied
the former Unity Church on North
For the first few years, the members of the Chicago Shrine organization
met in rented public halls and local Masonic lodges. Between 1893 and
1 903 , the organization was housed on the top two floors of the Medinah
Building, an office building at Jackson and Wells (now demolished) .
Between 1903 and 1912, it occupied the former Unity Church
at Dearborn and Walton (now the Scottish Rite Cathedral and part
of the Washington Square Chicago Landmark District).
Membership in the Chicago Shrine organization expanded greatly
during the early 1 900s , reaching more than 1 1 ,000 by 1911, when
the need for a larger mosque was recognized. That year, the organization
bought the mansion of the late Judge Lambert Tree, which was located
on Wabash Avenue between Ohio and Ontario. It selected the Chicago
architectural firm of Huehl & Schmid to design a new mosque for
A building permit was issued on October 7, 1911, and the cornerstone
was laid three weeks later in an elaborate ceremony held at midnight on
Halloween, which was attended by about 5,000 members — nearly half
the totahmem her ship . The new Medinah Temple mosque was d edicate d
a year later, when it was called "the largest auditorium in the world
erected by a social organization."
The plethora of Islamic and Middle Eastern ornament found both
on the exterior and interior of the Medinah Temple gives it a sense of
exotic fantasy that well suited the Shrine rituals the building sheltered.
This decor also provided a memorable setting for the many concerts,
circus performances, lectures, and other events that have been held
here over the years. Nonetheless, the primary purpose of the Medinah
Temple was to function efficiently as the Chicago headquarters of a
rapidly growing social organization. As an article in the April 1913
issue of the Architectural Record noted:
The Medinah Temple is thoroughly modern, while the Arabic
elements are so woven into the design as to become an integral
part of it. This building is, in fact, a modern structure, with Arabic
decorative expression, just as the Shrine itself is an organization
modern in its ideals, but possessing an Arabic ritual.
A four-story building, the Medinah Temple covers the eastern half
of a city block bounded by Wabash, Ontario, State and Ohio streets.
Its original footprint is roughly 150x218 feet, and the building's
exterior form clearly expresses its primary interior space, which
is a 4,200-seat auditorium — termed at the time as "the largest
and most impressive in the West."
This 1913 photograph (left) depicts the building's main
entrance pavilion and one of its original comer domes.
The contrast between square and curved forms (above)
gives the building a dynamic street presence.
The building's central feature is a large rectangular pavilion facing
Wabash, which marks the main entrance and lobby area. At the four
corners of the building are smaller pavilions that provide secondary
entrances and house the building's main staircases. In between these
entry pavilions — and above a one-story base — the walls of the building
curve to the contours of the auditorium within. This combination of
rectilinear and curved building forms gives the exterior of the building
a dynamic street presence on its very tight urban site.
Built of reinforced concrete, the exterior of the Medinah Temple
is faced with brick walls of unusually high quality and craftsmanship,
which is appropriate since the building was constructed to house
a fraternal organization whose origins were rooted in the art and craft
of traditional stonemasonry.
The brick itself is orange-brown colored and mottled with dark flecks.
Its "wire-cut" finish gives it the impression of handmade bricks, rich
in color and texture. This appearance is further heightened by the style
of the masonry work. The bricks were laid in a variation of the Flemish
bond, featuring alternating headers and stretchers in each course,
with each header centered above and below a stretcher.
What is particularly unusual, however, is the size of the "bricks," which
were formed by combining groups of four (for the stretchers) and two
(for the headers) regular-sized bricks. By finishing the mortar joints
flush with the face of the bricks, the result was alternating rectangular
and square "superbricks."The building's scale is large and blocklike,
The Medinah's sculptural, monumental
quality is enhanced by its decorative
terra cotta and distinctive brickwork.
Each of its "superbricks" (detail, top)
is actually composed of two or four
regularly sized bricks. Their "wire-cut"
finish complements the building's Islamic-
style ornament (above).
The Medinah is literally encrusted
with terra-cotta ornamental designs
common to Islamic-style mosques.
Clockwise, from top left a muqarnas-
filled niche, a horseshoe-arched comer
entrance, arabesque details surrounding
a lattice-filled arch, and Arabic script
but with a very fine sense of detail-
for a Chicago building.
Medinah Temple is lavishly detailed with Islamic ornament. The
entrances and many of the second-floor windows are framed within
horseshoe-shaped arches, which was a common detail on such Spanish
Moorish buildings as the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra
Palace complex in Granada. Pointed ogival arches, another common
Moorish detail, were used for first-floor windows. Intricate patterns
of geometric forms or stylized plants (referred to as arabesques) form
decorative surrounds around the doors and windows.
The building's main entrance (see cover) is dominated by a four-story
rectangular arch, bordered with bands of terra cotta contrasting in color
and ornament. Within this arch is a smaller, two-story horseshoe arch
that shelters the entrance. Above this arch is a row of five connected
horseshoe-arched windows, separated by engaged columns; above that
are three single rectangular-arched windows. The main entrance is
flanked by decorative mu^arnas-filled niches accented with decorative
faceting, again a common feature in Islamic mosques and palaces.
Surrounding the main entrance is a continuous terra-cotta band of
Arabic script, composed of cream-colored lettering atop a dark brown
background. It reads: "There is no God but Allah," which was a tradi-
tional inscription found in Islamic mosques. The lettering used here
was based on the exact lettering found in the Alhambra. (The existing,
projecting metal canopy above the entrance represents a remodeling
of the original canopy, which was thinner and more decorative.)
The building's secondary, corner entrances are set within horseshoe-
shaped surrounds that are topped by clusters of horseshoe-arched,
rectangular, and square windows. The upper-floor windows in the
curved exterior walls of the auditorium are similar in form and set
within recessed panels decorated with Arabic tracery. The building's
original terra cotta domes, which were set atop the two corner
pavilions facing Wabash, were based on Persian and Ottoman mosque
precedents and were covered with arabesque patterns. (These domes
were removed early in the building's history — about 1939 — and the
upper portions of the pavilions were rebuilt. The architect of record
for this remodeling was W.J. Ryan.)
Much of the building's ornament is architectural terra cotta produced
by the Midland Terra Cotta Company of Chicago. Its finish was roughly
textured to appear handmade. Flat bands of terra cotta, mostly in dark
This illustration from an art history
textbook shows some of the common
features of historic Islamic-style
Many of Medinah's windows are filled
with stained glass that has been
attributed to Louis Millet, an artisan
who worked with architect Louis
Sullivan on the Auditorium Building.
browns but with contrasting reds and blues, were molded into a variety
of abstracted arabesque patterns that frame the entrances and windows.
Terra cotta also was used for the projecting ledges above secondary
entrances, around some upper-floor windows, and on a variety of
cornices throughout the building. All were ornamented with flat foliate
patterns. Much of this terra cotta remains, although several small terra
cotta balconnettes gracing upper-floor windows have been removed,
as has the top portion of the cornice above the entrance pavilion.
Decorative metal grillwork, forming flat geometric patterns, fills
entrance arches and low, rectangular basement windows. Stained
glass — in whites, greens, and browns — fills many of the building's
casement windows and transoms. Their designs are detailed with
arabesque patterns arranged in a manner that suggests a variation
on the Sullivanesque style of ornament popularized by architect
Louis H. Sullivan. (We have been unable to confirm reports that
these windows were designed by Louis Millet, an artist who worked
in Chicago around the turn of the century. Millet's notable works
include the stencilling and stained glass in the Auditorium Building,
which was designed by Adler & Sullivan.)
The design of the Medinah Temple attracted a great deal of praise upon
its completion. The Architectural Record, a national architecture magazine,
called it one of "those rare instances in which a building designed in a
historical style. . .seems logical and in harmony with its surroundings."
More recently, the AIA Guide to Chicago (1993) has noted that while
the building's architect, Huehl & Schmid, had created scores of fanciful
Shriners auditoriums: "This is one of their largest and best preserved."
The Chicago Historic Resources Survey identified the building in its 1986
field survey of the Near North Side, giving it the highest possible survey
ranking ("red"), an honor accorded to only 200 buildings citywide.
Finally, Chicago's Famous Buildings (1993) cited the building's
Exuberant domes and highly textured surfaces... [which]
promise excitement, the unexpected, and the exotic to
its audiences. . .[filling its] low-rise block with forms that are
at human scale and visually diverse, providing an oasis of space
and light in the increasingly dense high-rise development
that surrounds them.
The Temple's Interior
Medinah Temple's interior is largely devoted to a 4,200-seat
auditorium and a basement banquet hall seating 2, 300. The first
floor originally held four lounges, and the public circulation areas,
including staircases and secondary lobbies, are simply detailed
and efficiently designed.
Above: The Medinah Temple's 4,200-seat
auditorium, includes a projecting"thrust-
style" stage — a common feature of
Shrine theater designs.
Left Surrounding the auditorium
is a series of parlors, small lobbies,
and coat-check rooms.
The auditorium is grand in scale, with a 50-foot-high ceiling orna-
mented with a large, 80-foot-wide saucer dome. The dome is double-
shell in construction and its design is based on that of the mosque
of Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, Turkey, which was built
as a church during the Byzantine Empire. A ring of windows at
the base of the dome is filled with stained glass similar to that found
in the exterior windows. A central chandelier, 1 2 feet in diameter
and containing 2SS electric light bulbs, hangs from this dome.
The auditorium's seating is arranged in three tiers — main floor, balcony,
and gallery — that curve around the central stage, which projects 45 feet
into the audience. This combination of a proscenium -thrust stage was
a typical feature in Shrine mosques; it was 68 feet wide. Steel ceiling
trusses reduce the number of support columns, providing fine sightlines
for the audience.
A mural above the proscenium arch, painted by artist Gustave A.
Brand, depicts a desert pilgrimage. Temple lore states that the figures
in the painting are portraits of the Medinah Temple's officers from 1912.
The auditorium was redecorated in 1924 and, although the mural,
central chandelier, and stained glass were retained, additional surface
decoration based on Hagia Sophia was added.
The auditorium's large concert organ was installed in 1915 by the
Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Conn. , and is considered by organ
enthusiasts as one of the finest "symphonic style" organs in the United
States. It contains 5,120 pipes from one-half inch to 30 feet in length
and is operated from five keyboards.
Although the exterior of the Medinah Temple remains largely intact,
there have been several changes that have altered its original appearance.
The most notable one was the removal, in aboutl939, of the building's
two original terra cotta domes, which necessitated a reconstruction of
the top floor of the corner pavilions facing Wabash Avenue. These domes
were not replaced for 15 years, until 1954, when copper-clad "onion-
shaped" domes were added atop the corner replacement roofs. (These
replacement domes subsequently were removed in 1995.)
Other alterations include the replacement of the building's original
wood-and-glass entrance doors with bronze-metal units. Approximately
a dozen small upper-floor balconnettes, featuring decorative wrought -
iron railings, also have been removed over the years.
In 1959, a three-story rear addition, known as the Unit Building, was
constructed on a portion of the courtyard of the adjacent Tree Studios
complex. This 23,000-square-foot annex, which largely is not visible
from the surrounding streets, provided space for rehearsals, storage,
and meetings. During the mid-1990s, a large electronic billboard was
installed on the building's Ohio Street facade.
Despite these minor changes, the Medinah Temple still possesses
good physical integrity, retaining the vast majority of its historic
features and decoration.
The major alteration to the Medinah
Temple has been a series of changes to
its comer pavilions.The building's original
terra cotta domes (top) were removed
in c. 1 939 and replaced by rebuilt, flat-
roofed pavilions (middle). In 1 954, these
pavilions were topped by sheet-metal,
onion-shaped domes (bottom) that,
subsequently, were removed in 1 995.
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— * :\ n. .; m Tt Tt 1 >
The Great Mosque in Isfahan,
Persia (Iran), which was begun
in the I Ith century, illustrates some
of the traditional features of Islamic
Islamic Architecture and the Shriners
The architecture of ancient Islam — a style that predominated in
western Asia from the seventh through 1 3th centuries — has not been
a common source of inspiration for American architects. In fact, its
most prevalent use in the United States has been during the early-20th
century by the architects who designed dozens of regional mosques
throughout the nation for the Shrine fraternal organization.
Islamic-inspired buildings were rare in the early days of the United
States. One of the first was the Bazaar in Cincinnati, Ohio, which was
a combination ballroom-and-shopping arcade built in 1 828 and featur-
ing onion domes and an arabesque-detailed arcade. One of the best
known early Islamic-influenced buildings is "Longwood," an octagonal
house in Natchez, Mississippi. It was designed in 1 860 by Philadelphia
architect Samuel Sloan and featured horseshoe-arched porch details
and a central onion dome.
The image of the "Oriental pleasure dome" was inspired by the various
Islamic-inspired pavilions that were built at numerous world's fairs held
in the U.S. during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Their popular-
ity led to the construction of several theaters, music halls, movie
palaces, and resort hotels in the style.
A famous example was the Tampa Bay Hotel in Tampa, Florida, which
was built in 1891 . Its onion domes and minaret towers were said by
one contemporary writer to be "patterned after the [Moorish] palaces
of Spain, with horseshoe arches and crescents everywhere visible
Among the few examples of Islamic-influenced design in
the U.S. are (clockwise, from top left): the New Regal Theater
on Chicago's South Side (1 926), the Tampa Bay Hotel (1891)
in Florida, the since-demolished Zion Temple on the city's
West Side ( 1 885), and the Longwood mansion in Natchez,
in the design." A much later, local example is the New Regal (formerly
Avalon) Theater, 1641 East 79th Street, designed in 1926 by architect
Perhaps the most common use of Islamic design in the late- 1 9th century
was for Jewish synagogues. Gothic architecture, the most widely
accepted style for Christian churches, was seen as unsuitable for Jewish
synagogues and temples. According to the National Trust for Historic
Preservation's What Style Is It? A Guide to American Architecture: "The
Moorish Revival had historical precedent in the beautiful Mudejar
synagogues of Spain that were built before the 1 5th century."Two
prominent early examples were the Central Synagogue in New York
(1870-72) and Adler & Sullivan's ZionTemple in Chicago (1885;
demolished c. 1955).
During the 20th century, however, the most common examples
of Islamic-based architecture were the various regional temples built
by the Shriners fraternal organization. Their use of Islamic-based
Romantic Middle-Eastern imagery was
a pervasive part of Shrine culture, even
for the cover of this 1 922 business
architecture and ornamentation reflected the organization's identifi-
cation with Islamic imagery, which could be seen in the names of its
chapters and officers, its rituals and programs, and even its costumes.
The Islamic world of the Middle East had long been depicted — mainly
through literature — as an exotic place where time stood still and where
men were free of the trappings and responsibilities of Western civiliza-
tion. The founders of the Shrine organization saw their new fraternal
group as one that would teach American men how to be "legitimately
frivolous," according to an 1925 article by Imperial Potentate (national
president) James E. Chandler. Consequently, most of the Shrine rituals
incorporated a Middle Eastern sense of exotic indulgence and freedom.
Early in the organization's history, local Shrine chapters (temples)
shared space with other masonic groups. By 1900, however, they had
become large and prosperous enough to begin constructing their own
buildings. Due to their Arabic-inspired rituals, Shrine buildings became
known as mosques and utilized many of the details of Islamic architec-
ture, including horseshoe arches, minarets, onion domes, geometric
decoration, Arabic-script panels and friezes, and ornamental grilles.
Their auditoriums featured elaborate thrust-style stages that provided
the proper setting for Shrine pageantry, especially initiation rites.
During the first three decades of the 20th century, Islamic-revival architecture found
its principal use in Shrine mosques. Seen here (left to right) are the: Murat Temple
in Indianapolis, Indiana; Irem Temple, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania; Al Malaikah Temple,
Los Angeles, California; and Kismet Temple, Brooklyn, New York.
Medinah Temple was the first of several
Shrine-related buildings designed by
Harris Huehl (left) and Richard Schmid
(right). Both men were Shriners and
Huehl had served a term as potentate
(president) of Medinah Temple.
The first Shrine mosque to use Islamic forms and details was the
Lu Lu Temple in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was designed
by Frederick Webber and completed in 1904. Its horseshoe arches,
arabesque ornament, and onion domes set a standard for dozens
of other Shrine temples to follow, including Chicago's Medinah Temple.
Other early Islamic-style designs were the: Irem Temple inWilkes-
Barre, Pennsylvania (1907), Kismet Temple in Brooklyn, New York
(1909), and Morocco Temple in Jacksonville, Florida (1910).
The Architects of Medinah Temple
In most cases, the Shrine mosques were designed by architects
who were members of the Shrine. Medinah was no exception.
Both partners of Huehl & Schmid, the firm that the Medinah Temple
selected to design its new building, were Shriners.
Harris H. Huehl had served one term (1905-06) as the potentate
(president) of Medinah Temple. Fellow Shrine member Richard
Gustave Schmid (1863-1937), who trained at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, had worked for Boston architect Henry
Hobson Richardson and his successor firm, Shepley, Rutan, and
Coolidge (the architects of the Chicago Public Library -Cultural
Center). A native Chicagoan, Schmid returned to Chicago in 1 890,
when he formed an architectural partnership with Huehl.
The firm of Huehl & Schmidt enjoyed a solid reputation for its designs
of private residences, apartment buildings, commercial stores, and
small loft manufacturing buildings. Among their surviving buildings
are: 4849 South Ellis Avenue (1 897) in the Kenwood Landmark
District; 1 16 and 123 West Illinois Street (1909-1 1); and 706 and
800West Hutchinson Street (1905-08) in the Hutchinson Street
Huehl & Schmid's flamboyant design
for the Medinah Temple gave the firm
national recognition. It also led to more
commissions for Shrine buildings,
including the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania (1915; demolished).
However, the firm had never received a commission the size and
visibility of the Medinah Temple. In researching their design, at least
one of the partners reportedly traveled to the Middle East to get
a first-hand look at various examples of Islamic style architecture.
The firm's efforts paid off. Upon its completion, the Medinah Temple
was widely praised as one of the nation's most masterful expressions
of the Shrine's aesthetic ideals. It was featured in two of the nation's
leading architectural magazines, The Architectural Record and Western
Architect, and its success quickly brought other commissions to the
firm — primarily for Shrine temples and Masonic lodges. In 1915,
the firm designed the Syria Mosque for the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania)
Shrine Temple. Later, the firm was commissioned to design a Masonic
Temple in Allentown, Pennsylvania (1922), the Scottish Rite Cathedral
in Newcastle, Pennsylvania (1923), and fraternal club buildings
in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Following Huehl's death in 1918, Schmid organized his own firm,
R.G. Schmid & Co., which was responsible for the Islamic -inspired
design of the Medinah Country Club (1925), located near the DuPage
County suburb of Bloomingdale, Illinois. That firm was succeeded
by Schmid & Ryan in 1 927.
One indication of the importance of the Medinah Temple commission
to Schmid's career is his listing in the Biographical Dictionary of American
Architects (Deceased), which begins with the line: "Noted designer of
Masonic buildings "
'Mighty Medinah' Since 1912
At its opening in 1912, the new Medinah Temple was hailed by Shrine
members as a grand setting for its ceremonies: "A setting of Arabic
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Shrine Membership, 1882-1936
The Shrine's rituals and ceremonies,
such as the one featured in a 1 938
UFE magazine article (above), were
important Medinah Temple activities.
National Shrine membership grew
phenomenally during the first two
decades of the 20th century, reaching
a peak of nearly 600,000 in 1926 (left).
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splendor," according to the official history of Medinah: WOYears of Love.
The temple's membership rose sharply in the years following the
opening of the new mosque; nearly 5,000 joined in 1920 alone.
By 1926, Shrine membership in Chicago had reached 23,100,
making it the second largest temple in the United States.
"Mighty Medinah," as members began calling the mosque, was the
acknowledged center of the institution's social life. But, for the rest
Over the years, the Chicago Shrine
has sponsored a wide array of concerts
and charity events, including several
performances by America's foremost
march composer — and Shrine
member — John Philip Sousa (top).
"Shrine Day," as seen in this 1976 photo
of Little Leaguers with members of
the Chicago White Sox (above), is
an annual event held at Comiskey
Park to raise money for the Shrine
The Medinah Country Club, built in 1 925 in then-rural DuPage County, was developed
by a group of Shriners. It has been the site of numerous benefit golf tournaments
and other organization fundraisers. The building was designed by Richard Schmid,
one of the architects of the Medinah Temple.
of Chicago, the new auditorium also became an important site
in the city's cultural life. It has been a home for hundreds of public
events, from speeches and rallies to concerts and college graduation
ceremonies and even circuses. It has brought countless Chicagoans
together under its broad roof, providing both momentary pleasures
and lifelong memories.
Soon after the temple's construction, the special acoustical qualities
of its auditorium became apparent. The installation of a new pipe
organ in 1915 was celebrated by a series of concerts with the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra, which marked the beginning of an important
association between the two groups.
Many of the Shrine events were restricted to members, but others
were open to family members and friends, including a regular series
of twice-monthly Sunday afternoon concerts. Many Medinah events
elaborated on the Shrine's associations with Islamic imagery. Starting
in 1922, an annual series, "Medinah Frolics "featured music, ceremonial
drills, and dancing for Shrine members and their wives. In 1 926,
a program entitled "Pageants of the Orient" was instituted to give
Shrine families the "drama and color" of some of the organization's
secret initiation rites. Other Islamic-theme events included
"A Night in Bagdad: A Fantasy of Oriental Splendor" and "A Night
The broad range of performers who have appeared at public events
at Medinah Temple is impressive. Notables have included: band leader
and Shrine member John Philip Sousa (19 IS), operatic tenor Enrico
Caruso (c.1920), ballerina Anna Pavlova and the Ballet Russe (1921),
Blackstone the Magician (1933), the "WLS Barn Dance" radio show
(1936), Broadway star Mary Martin (1958-59), and most recently,
Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show (1996).
In the early 1920s, the national Shrine organization began to devote
time, energy, and money to the construction and operation of local
hospitals for crippled children. In 1926, the Chicago Unit of the
Shriners Hospitals for Crippled Children opened at Belden and Oak
Park avenues on the city's Far Northwest Side. (It was replaced with
a new facility in 1981.)
The tremendous growth of the Shrine organization during the 1920s
also prompted the creation of two other clubs in the Chicago area.
In 1925, the Medinah Country Club was built in then-rural DuPage
County, near Bloomingdale.The Islamic design of the club building
was by Richard G. Schmid, one of the architects of the Medinah
Temple. Four years later, a group of Shriners developed the 42 -story
Medinah Athletic Club Building, 505 North Michigan Avenue, to
provide hotel and recreational facilities for local and visiting Shriners.
The Great Depression led to its bankruptcy in 1 934; it now houses
the Hotel Inter- Continental.
The Depression years also saw a decline in the Medinah Temple's
membership, from 23,000 in 1926 to approximately 14,400
by the mid- 1930s.
One of the Medinah Temple's favorite and most well-known events
dates to the World War II era. Although circuses had performed
in the building previously (dating to a 1926 matinee performance
for Shrine members' children), the famed Medinah Shrine Circus
did not become an annual winter event until 1 943. Over the five
decades since then, the circuses have raised millions of dollars
for Shrine hospitals and other charities, while entertaining hundreds
of thousands of Chicago children and their families .
The building's association with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
(CSO) was formalized in 1956-57 when the orchestra's entire season
was performed there— due to renovations at Orchestra Hall— under
noted conductor Fritz Reiner.
On April 26, 1967, again due to construction at Orchestra Hall, the
symphony decided to record Bela Bartok's "Miraculous Mandarin Suite"
at Medinah Temple (RCA Records; Jean Martinon, conductor). Over
Medinah Temple is widely known as
the location for circuses and symphonies.
The Shrine Circus (top), one of the city's
most popular events, has been held
annually at the Temple since 1943. The
auditorium's rich acoustics also made
ft the recording studio for more than
1 00 records by the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra. This 1 972 album cover shows
CSO music director Daniel Barenboim
conducting in the auditorium.
The red fez is a trademark of Shrine
membership. This photo appeared
in a 1938 LIFE magazine article
on the Shriners.
the next IS years, the CSO recorded more than 100 performances
at Medinah Temple, on such prestigious labels as Angel, Columbia,
Deutsches Gramophon, London, and RCA. Much of the orchestra's
world reknown during the tenure of music director Sir Georg Solti
came through recordings made at Medinah Temple in the 1970s and
early 1980s, including works by Mahler, Berlioz, and Brahms. Other
important conductors who recorded with the orchestra in Medinah
include current music director Daniel Barenboim, and guest conductors
Carlo Maria Giulini, Seiji Ozawa, Erich Leinsdorf, James Levine,
Morton Gould, Andre Previn and Karl Boehm.
Along with these cultural events, Medinah Temple also has served
as the home for countless benefits, meetings of church, educational,
and charitable organizations, high school and college graduations,
and business meetings. Shrine membership, however, has continued
to decline to a number that could nearly fit within its 4,200-seat
auditorium. As a result, the membership approved placing the
Medinah Temple up for sale in the summer of 1998.
Criteria for Designation
According to the Municipal Code of Chicago (§ 2- 1 20-620 and 630),
the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has the authority to recom-
mend a building for landmark designation if the Commission deter-
mines that it meets two or more of the stated "criteria for landmark
designation," as well as possesses a significant degree of its historic
Based on the findings in this report, the following should be considered
by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in determining whether
to recommend the Medinah Temple for designation as a Chicago
Criterion I: Critical Part of the City's History
Its value as an example of the architectural, cultural, economic, historic,
social, or other aspect of the heritage of the City of Chicago, State of
Illinois or the United States.
Since its opening in 1912, the Medinah Temple has served as the
Chicago headquarters of a popular national fraternal organization,
the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (a.k.a. the
Shriners) . The Shrine was one of several organizations established in
the late- 1 9th century that restricted its membership to men already
active in "Freemasonry," a British stonemason's guild that had evolved
into a social club of gentlemen, merchants, and tradesmen.
By the mid- 1920s, it was estimated that one-half of the adult males in
the United States belonged to some type of freemasonry organization.
Membership in the Shrine's Medinah Temple expanded greatly during
the early 1900s, reaching more than 1 1 ,000 members by 1911 and
2 1 ,000 by 1920— when the Chicago branch was the nation's second-
largest Shrine organization.
In addition to its fraternal functions, the Medinah Temple has also been
the site of numerous lectures, school graduations, and musical perfor-
mances. Among those who have performed in its 4,200-seat auditorium
are: band leader-composer John Philip Sousa, opera singers Enrico
Caruso and Ernestine Schumann -Heink, ballerina Anna Pavlova, Broad-
way singer Mary Martin, and numerous composers and conductors,
including: Daniel Barenboim, Felix Borowski, Morton Gould, Erich
Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa, Andre Previn, Sir Georg Solti, and Leopold
Because of its fine acoustics, the auditorium has been used
as the recording studio for more than 1 00 recordings by the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra. Many of the records for which the symphony
is internationally recognized were made at the Medinah Temple.
Finally, the Medinah Temple is known to several generations of
Chicagoans as the site of the Shrine Circus, which has been an annual
winter event at the Medinah Temple since 1943. Proceeds from the
event have helped support the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children,
which opened on the city's Far Northwest Side in 1926.
Criterion 4: Important Architecture
Its exemplification of an architectural type or style distinguished by
innovation, rarity, uniqueness, or overall quality of design, detail, materials
The Medinah Temple is an important and unusual example of Islamic
Revival architecture, aptly expressive of its exotic associations with the
Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The architectural
style of Medinah Temple is based on traditional Spanish Moorish and
Middle Eastern architecture, of which there are virtually no other
examples in Chicago.
The building is replete with Islamic details, including horseshoe arched
windows (found in the Great Mosque of Cordova and the Alhambra in
Granada), distinctive pointed "ogival" arches, and ornate "Arabesques"
(intricate patterns of geometric forms or stylized plants) that surround
doors and windows.
Two large terra cotta domes covered with arabesque patterns (removed
circa 1 939), and located on the two corner pavilions facing Wabash
Avenue, were based on Persian and Ottoman mosque architecture.
The main entrance is flanked by decorative "muqarnas"-filled niches,
another prominent feature of Islamic mosques and palaces. The building
also incorporates Arabic script into the overall decoration.
The brickwork and terra cotta detailing of the Medinah Temple
is a showcase of masonry craftsmanship, which is appropriate for
an organization based on masonry trade guilds. The bricks are unusual
for their size and texture. Each "brick" is actually made up of clusters
of regular-sized bricks, giving the wall a monumental character.
In addition, the bricks have a "wire-cut" finish that imparts a distinctive
hand -hewn quality. This notion of a handcrafted building is enhanced
by the use of architectural terra-cotta, done in dark brown and contrast-
ing reds and blues. This material was used for the building's arabesque-
patterned lintels and balconettes, as well as the cornice above the
entrance pavilion and other decorations.
The Medinah Temple is one of the best examples of Shrine mosque
architecture in the United States. By the early 1900s, the chief use
of Islamic architectural styles in this country was for the Shrine
organization, which built dozens of Islamic- influenced buildings
throughout the country between 1904 and the early 1930s.
Medinah Temple was the first Shrine mosque designed by architects
Harris H. Huehl (1862-1919) and Richard G. Schmid (1863-1937).
Both men were Shriners and Huehl had served a term in 1905-06 as
potentate (president) of Medinah Temple. The partnership had a well-
established practice in Chicago before designing the Medinah Temple,
but this building's exotic design and detailing gave the firm national
prominence. The leading architecture periodicals of the time praised
the temple and considered it a masterful expression of Shrine esthetic
ideals. Huehl and Schmid — together and separately — went on to design
a half dozen other major Shrine-related buildings.
Criterion 7: Unique Visual Feature
Its unique location or distinctive physical appearance or presence
representing an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood,
community, or the City of Chicago.
The monumental edifice of the Medinah Temple has been a corner-
stone of the Near North neighborhood since the temple's completion
in 1912. Its picturesque Islamic-style architecture, together with its
seemingly hand-hewn walls, make it an exotic, if not quixotic, addition
to North Wabash Avenue. The Medinah Temple represents a genuine
architectural "oasis," as refreshing for its monumental scale as for its
Its dark colors, ornate details, and minimal building setbacks combine
to create a four-story mass that seemingly rises right from the flat urban
landscape. In the truest mark of a visual landmark, no one can miss
seeing — and remembering having seen — the Medinah Temple.
Although its architecture was intended to reinforce the Islamic-
based pageantry for its members, the building also is remembered
by generations of Chicagoans who saw it as the fanciful backdrop
for the annual Shrine Circus. Over the decades, the Temple also
has been a well-known destination for the hundreds of thousands —
if not millions — who have attended not only the circus , but various
concerts, high school and college graduations, and a wide variety
of other performances.
The integrity of the proposed landmark must be preserved in light of
its location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, and ability to express
its historic community, architectural or aesthetic interest or value.
The exterior of the Medinah Temple Building retains its historic integ-
rity to a high degree. The principal alteration to the original design
has been the removal (circa 1939) of the two original terra cotta domes
on the Wabash Avenue corner pavilions. (Simpler, less ornate onion-
shaped domes, made of sheet metal, were erected in 1954 and removed
in 1995). With only a few other minor exceptions, the remainder
of the building's original exterior design is intact.
and Architectural Features
Whenever a building is under consideration for landmark designation,
the Commission on Chicago Landmarks is required to identify the
"significant historical and architectural features" of the property. This is
done to enable the owners and the public to understand which elements
are considered most important to preserve the historical and architec-
tural character of the proposed landmark.
Based on its preliminary evaluation of the Medinah Temple,
the Commission staff recommends that the significant historical
and architectural features be identified as:
• all exterior elevations, including rooflines; and
• the following interior features of the Medinah Temple auditorium:
the auditorium ceiling, including the main dome and three secondary
domes; on the west wall of the auditorium, the proscenium arch
and the matching ornamental surrounds around the flanking organ
consoles; the capitals of the two floor-to-ceiling columns; and
the interior casework of the windows.
Bernstein, G. S. "In Pursuit of the Exotic: Islamic forms in nineteenth-century
American Architecture." Ph. D dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1968.
Celik, Zeynep. Displaying the Orient: Architecture of Islam at Nineteenth -Century
World's Fairs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
Corbett, Harvey Wiley. "The Architecture of Fraternal Buildings."
Architectural Forum XLV, no. 3 (September 1926), pp. 129-140.
Diamonstein, Barbaralee. The Landmarks ofNewYork II. New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 1993.
Ettinghausen, Richard, and Oleg Grabar. The Art and Architecture of Islam,
650—1250. Pelican History of Art series. London: Penguin Group, 1987.
Harris, Cyril M., ed. Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture . New York:
Dover Publications, 1977.
Hatton, Hap. Tropical Splendor: An Architectural History of Florida. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1987.
Hoag, John D. Islamic Architecture. New York: Rizzoli, 1987.
Lancaster, Clay. "Oriental Forms in American Architecture, 1 800— 1 870."
Art Bulletin 29, no. 3 (September 1947), pp. 183-193.
McClurg, Donald C. WOYears of Love: Medinah Temple, Ancient Arabic Order
Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, 1883-1983;A Centennial Commemorative. Chicago:
"Medinah Temple, Chicago; Huehl & Schmid, Architects." Western Architect 19,
no. S (May 1913), pp. 45-46, plus two plates.
"Medinah Temple" newspaper clipping file. Research Center, Chicago
Moore, William D. "American Shriners' Mosques, 1904— 1930: Theaters for the
Enactment of the Fraternal Other." Paper presented at the 48th annual meeting
of the Society of Architectural Historians, Seattle, Washington, April 7, 1995.
Moore, William D. "From Lodge Room to Theatre: Meeting Spaces of the
Scottish Rite." In Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish
Rite of Freemasonry, 1896-1929. Minneapolis: Frederick R. Weisman Art
Museum, University of Minnesota; distributed by the University Press
of Mississippi, 1996.
Murphy, J. E. "Eastern Architecture in the West: Medinah Temple in Chicago,
Huehl & Schmid, Architects." Architectural Record 33 (April 1913), pp. 339-349.
"The Shriners: 'Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles' Reveals its Pageantry." LIFE,
May 16, 1938.
CITY OF CHICAGO
Richard M. Daley, Mayor
Department of Planning and Development
Alicia Mazur Berg, Commissioner
Brian Goeken, Deputy Commissioner
Terry Tatum, research and writing
Chicago Car to Graphics, layout
James Peters, editing
Special thanks to William D. Moore, director of the Livingston
Masonic Library in New York, Jean Guarino, and Lisa DiChiera
for their research assistance.
Terry Tatum: front cover, inside front cover, pp. 5 (all except top left), 6
(all except far right), 8.
100 Years of Love: pp. 2, 3 (left), 9 (top), 1 1, 14 (top), 15,17 (top),
Chicago and Its Makers (1929): p. 3 (right).
Architectural Record (April 1913): pp. 5 (left), 6 (far right), 9 (below).
Art History by Marilyn Stokstad (1 998): pp. 7, 1 2 .
Commission on Chicago Landmarks: p. 1 3 (top left).
Tropical Splendor: An Architectural History of Florida: p. 1 3 (top right).
America: Life and Culture Society (1994): p. 1 3 (left).
Faith and Form: Synagogue Architecture in Illinois (1976). p. 1 3 (bottom).
The Architecture ofRubush Si^Hunter (unpublished dissertation, 198S:
p. 14 (left).
Courtesy of the Livingston Masonic Library, New York, NY: pp. 14
(all except left), 16.
LIFE magazine (May 16, 1938): pp. 17 (top), 20.
"American Shriners' Mosques, 1904-1930": p. 17 (bottom).
Chicago, Yesterday and Today (1932): inside back cover.
The Medinah Temple looms over a tree-lined Wabash Avenue in this photograph taken shortly after its opening in 1912.
The pastoral quality of this scene contrasts markedly with the Temple's present-day surroundings (see inside front cover).
COMMISSION ON CHICAGO LANDMARKS
David R. Mosena, Chair
Larry W. Parkman.Vice Chair
John W. Baird, Secretary
Alicia Mazur Berg
Kein L Burton
Michelle R. Obama
The Commission is staffed by the
Chicago Department of Planning and Development
33 N. LaSalle Street, Room 1 600, Chicago, IL 60602
3 1 2-744-3200; 744-2958 (TDD)